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Patrick Mahomes becomes fifth black QB on ‘Madden 20’ cover

‘I expect my rating to be 100,’ says the NFL’s reigning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year

On third-and-goal at the 4-yard line, the San Francisco 49ers’ defense brought the pressure to Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But he didn’t panic. Instead, Mahomes pivoted right, spun back left to avoid a linebacker and sprinted full-speed upfield before unleashing a laser of a throw to wide receiver Chris Conley open in the back of the end zone. Touchdown, Chiefs.

Sounds like a play from a video game, right? Nah. Just a highlight from a game last September — one of the many unreal moments from Mahomes’ magical 2018 NFL season. It was his first year leading the Chiefs after backing up veteran starter Alex Smith as a rookie in 2017, when Kansas City traded up to take Mahomes out of Texas Tech University with the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL draft.

The team soon traded Smith and gave the starting job to Mahomes, who finished the 2018 regular season with 5,097 passing yards, becoming the first player to throw for 5,000 yards in a season at both the college and NFL levels. He also became just the third quarterback in NFL history (after Tom Brady in 2007 and Peyton Manning in 2013) to throw 50 touchdowns in a season. Mahomes took the Chiefs to the brink of the Super Bowl with an arsenal of on-the-run, no-look and even left-handed passes that only seemed possible on a virtual football field, with a controller and joysticks.

“Right when I came into the league, I went out and got Madden and was trying to do all the Michael Vick-type stuff.” — Patrick Mahomes

Before the start of his historic sophomore campaign in the NFL, Mahomes actually got a little bit of motivation from a video game. When he first played Madden 19, the NFL video game that debuted as John Madden Football on PC in 1988, Mahomes couldn’t believe his avatar had a rating of only 77. By the end of the actual NFL season though, Mahomes’ Madden rating had skyrocketed to 94.

On Thursday, EA Sports announced that Mahomes, the NFL’s reigning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, is the cover athlete for Madden 20, which is set to release for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on Aug. 2. At 23, Mahomes is the third-youngest player, behind Odell Beckham Jr. on Madden 16 and Michael Vick on Madden 2004, to grace the cover of the game. (The cover featured John Madden instead of athletes until Eddie George appeared on Madden 2001.) Mahomes is also the fifth African American quarterback to receive the honor. The others: Daunte Culpepper on Madden 2002, Vick on 2004, Donovan McNabb on Madden 06 and Vince Young on Madden 08. “When you’re a little kid,” Mahomes told The Undefeated, “you dream about being on the cover of Madden … having your picture up there.”

Take us back to the moment when you found out you’d be on the cover of Madden 20.

We were at the Pro Bowl, and EA Sports approached me. We had a meeting, and there was an awesome PowerPoint [presentation]. It was a surreal moment … something I’ll never forget.

What memories do you have playing the game?

Not the best memories for me, but the funniest ones were when I was a kid and my dad would pick the Vikings with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. He’d let me stay around in the game. And then at the end, he’d just throw it to Moss and score a touchdown. I remember crying and throwing the controllers at the TV. But I used to love to play the game and try to get better.

Who were your favorite teams and players to play?

I always played with the Cowboys just because I’m a Texas boy and was a Cowboys fan. As I got older, I started going with teams that have great skill position players, like the Steelers. And now it’s all about the Chiefs. We got the best skill position guys in the league.

He’s just the third quarterback in NFL history (after Tom Brady in 2007 and Peyton Manning in 2013) to throw 50 touchdowns in a season.

A lot of gamers love Michael Vick from Madden 2004 — did you ever play with him and the Falcons in that game?

Of course. Having Vick, man, you could run by everybody, throw it wherever you wanted on the field and hit everybody for touchdowns. Him and Moss, those were the two dudes who were unstoppable on the game.

What was it like working with your own avi for the first time on Madden 18?

It was awesome. I’d dreamed of that moment for a long time. I was in the first class when they stopped making the NCAA Football, so I never got to be in that game. I was waiting for the moment I got to be in a game and throw with myself. Right when I came into the league, I went out and got Madden and was trying to do all the Michael Vick-type stuff on the field, but my accuracy wasn’t as good back then.

“I expect my rating to be 100 … I want a little 100 emoji by my name.”

Would you like to see NCAA Football come back?

It was disappointing not ever being in it. I was a fan of the game, and knew I was going to Texas Tech. Then I get there, and it’s the first year the game had stopped being made. If they figured it out, I know that game would be a hit again. People want it — a lot. But it’s awesome that with the new Madden, they incorporated playing with some of the colleges. I know people are gonna love that.

What was it like contributing to the new “Face of the Franchise: QB1” mode, and especially having your alma mater represented in the game?

It’s cool to get Texas Tech in there, because we kind of get left out sometimes, even though we are a pretty big school. And it was amazing to be able to talk about my experiences, and then incorporate those into the Face of the Franchise mode, like when you’re going into the draft process and how much different stuff you have to do. Showing that and a glimmer of what it takes to become an NFL quarterback — to walk across that draft stage, go to the combine, go to the College Football Playoff — it’s gonna be something that a lot of people are gonna love. It’s gonna show what it takes to get to the NFL.

Who’s the best Madden player on the Chiefs?

Darrel Williams. He was a backup running back for us at the end of last season. He was a rookie. But, dude. I’m pretty good at Madden, but he beat me by like 40. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t play you anymore because this is embarrassing.’

Do a lot of guys on the Chiefs play Madden?

As a team, we did a franchise mode and each player had a team. Tyreek [Hill] is really good at Madden. A couple of other guys are really good, and I know there’s guys across the league who are too. But I try to stay away from getting beat, so I usually play with dudes who are pretty average.

You started last year’s game, Madden 19, at a 77 rating. When you first saw that number, did you think it was too low?

A hundred percent … I was very disappointed, but knew I had to get it up. Every single week, it just climbed and climbed and got up there pretty high.

What do you expect your rating to be in this game?

I expect my rating to be 100. I’m thinking that’s what we should go with. I want a little 100 emoji by my name.

“When you’re that close to being in the Super Bowl, you’re driven every single day to get better and find ways to get there.”

Another quarterback who will be in Madden this year is rookie Kyler Murray. What do you expect to see out of him at the pro level?

The sky’s the limit for Kyler. He’s a guy who throws the ball purely from the pocket. He has a great arm and can make all the throws. Then he has the X factor because he can run by anybody. He stays away from taking the big hits, even though he’s a scrambler. I think if he gets in the right system and they utilize his talents, he can do a lot of great things in the NFL.

Were you surprised by his decision to choose football over baseball?

I wasn’t. I think he just followed what his heart was saying — and football is what he really wanted to do. He could’ve been successful in either sport. And either decision he made, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s all about the person and what they want to do for the rest of their life.

What was the best moment from your first year leading the Chiefs?

Definitely winning that playoff game against the Colts, the first playoff win in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium in 25 years. Winning that game, you could just feel the joy in that stadium, the accomplishment of the team.

Do you ever think about that loss in the AFC Championship to the Patriots?

Of course. … I watched the film a couple times. We just didn’t start fast enough. We played great in the second half but just came up short in the end. You use that as fuel to the fire. You use those experiences as ways to get better. … We were so close to getting to that Super Bowl. Next year, we’re gonna try to take that next step and get to the Super Bowl.

Are you anxious to get back on the field?

Oh, yeah. When you’re that close to being in the Super Bowl, you’re driven every single day to get better and find ways to get there. I’ve used that as motivation to get in extra work.

How much did you follow the MVP race last season, and how did it feel to earn that honor?

You’re conscious of the race, just because of social media. But you don’t ever think about that type of stuff when you’re playing. You just find ways to win football games, find ways to keep having success. But it was awesome to be at NFL Honors and get announced. It was a surreal moment, a loss-for-words moment.

“I remember crying and throwing the controllers at the TV. But I used to love to play the game and try to get better.”

Where do you keep your MVP trophy?

I just got a man cave in my new house, and we have it in the center above the TV. (Mahomes and longtime girlfriend Brittany Matthews live in the Kansas City area.) There’s a couple trophies up there, but that’s the main one.

Heading into just your third NFL season, how does it feel to be the cover athlete of Madden 20?

It really is an amazing feeling. … For me to get it at a young age, it’s something I didn’t expect this soon in my career. But it’s been an amazing journey so far.

Anybody you’re gonna challenge in the new game?

I’m going for everybody, man. I’m gonna try to master it and become the best Madden player in the NFL this year.

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.